Latin American Wound Collectors: It is Time to Move on From the Past

Latin American "wound collectors" incorrectly blame all of the region's social and economic ills on the United States and multinational corporations.

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“Wound collectors” are people unable to let go of historical ideological grievances (Cuban Embassy).

“Wound Collectors” is a term coined by former FBI special agent Joe Navarro in his book “Hunting Terrorism:  A look at the Psychopathology of Terror,” and further discussed in several of his Psychology Today articles. Mr. Navarro defines wound collecting as “the conscious and systematic collection and preservation of transgressions, violations, social wrongs, grievances, injustice, unfair treatment, or slights of self and others, for the purpose of nourishing, fortifying, or justifying a malignant ideology, furthering hatred, satisfying pathology, or for exacting revenge.”

Mr. Navarro, a counterintelligence and behavioral assessment expert, first used the term in the context of analyzing terrorists, noting that “terrorists are perennial wound collectors” that often bring up “events from decades or even centuries past.” He cites as examples Ted Kaczynski and his “Unabomber Manifesto” condemning technology; Osama bin Laden’s 1996 fatwa reciting wounds dating back to the Crusades, and many others.

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For me, the concept of “wound collectors” elicits the image of Latin American leftist intellectuals and politicians that somehow always manage to blame the United States, or multinational corporations for all the ills that afflict the region.

As a graduate student of International Relations in the 1970s, many of my professors were enamored with the Dependency Theory argument that resources flow, in an exploitative manner, from a “periphery” of poor underdeveloped states to a “core” of wealthy states. A central contention of Dependency Theory is that the core states became rich at the expense of impoverishing the periphery states. Many of the central authors of Dependency Theory were from Latin American such as Raul Prebisch (Argentina), Fernando Enrique Cardozo and Celso Furtado (Brazil), and Enzo Faletto and Anibal Pinto Santa Cruz (Chile).

Parenthetically, Fernando Enrique Cardozo later served as President of Brazil (1995-2002) and acknowledged that he knew little about economics when he wrote his book with Enzo Faletto “Dependency and Development in Latin America.”

Dependency Theory shares many themes with Marxist theory and “dependencia” became a battle cry for the left in Latin America and elsewhere. And Latin American intellectual and politicians became “wound collectors” of all the social wrongs, grievances, injustices, and unfair treatment that they attributed to American corporations. To them, Latin American development was the victim of the greedy American corporations.

Hand in hand with dependencia, from the 1960s to the 1980s, the malignant ideology of liberation theology, intertwined with Marxist dogma, and intensely promoted by Communist Cuba and the Soviet Union, carried out bloody “wars of national liberation” throughout Latin America. Liberation theology began as a movement within the Latin American Catholic Church. Its iconography often included the image of a guerrilla Jesus carrying a Soviet weapon.

The origin of the Latin American brand of liberation theology is credited to Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez.  In 1971, Father Gutierrez published “A Theology of Liberation,” one of the movement’s defining books. For Gutierrez, poverty is the result of dependency on the developed countries, and unjust social structures. Liberation theology authors also became “wound collectors” of all the ills presumably inflicted on the region by the United States. Ironically, Gutierrez went on to hold a prestigious professorship at the University of Notre Dame in the United States.

For decades, the United States has attempted unsuccessfully to redefine its political and economic relationship with Latin America; most famously with President John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress and with President Ronald Reagan’s Caribbean Basin Initiative. These policies turned out to be ineffective.

A byproduct of Latin America’s wound collecting is that the region has developed a sense of victimized self that manifests itself in a disdain for the private sector of the economy and particularly for much needed American investments.

Yet, today’s global economy is disrupting old development paradigms so that much can be done with little. Consider this: “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no context. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate” (Tom Goodwin on TechCrunch.com).

To become economically successful, Latin America needs to stop collecting real or imagined wounds, and rethink what makes up economic power.

Dr. Azel‘s latest book is “Reflections on Freedom.”

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